Greater ‘place-based’ local and national collaboration needed for sustainable economy
“Economic development is the only sector that will deliver a sustainable and growing UK economy post-Brexit. It will affect our general wellbeing and shape our culture and society. There’s no-one else championing this space, and it’s a space that needs filling, so the Institute of Economic Development (IED) is perfectly positioned to ensure economic development can, and does, change and shape place and lives for the better.”
This is the view of Lawrence Conway, Chief Executive of South Lakeland District Council, who is the latest addition to the IED Board of Directors following the appointments of Gordon Mole and Warren Ralls last month. With over 20 years’ experience in the public sector – including eight in his current role in Cumbria – and 15 years in private sector employment, Lawrence said there could not be a better time for him to join the IED.
“I’m very pleased to have been invited to help the IED in this capacity and I’m looking forward to the role immensely – it’s a great challenge for me personally and I’m delighted to have the full backing of South Lakeland District Council,” he explained. “In the past 18 months, I’ve seen the IED gain traction, connectivity and make an impact. Sir Howard Bernstein’s appointment as Patron is another significant step forward. Now it’s about how far we can take things. If you’re looking to help the country pre and post-Brexit, what better way to work towards that than through the IED which can bring local and national government influence and collaboration?”
Lawrence is keen to ensure that the UK’s Industrial Strategy has not only the strategy but the structure to deliver growth and prosperity that benefits the nation, local communities and the most vulnerable in society – and highlighted how the IED can support that. “Economic development is currently expressed in many ways – large-scale and local Industrial Strategy through Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), regeneration, housing, investment, commercialisation, profit and many others,” he said. “We need to relate to these terms and demonstrate how the IED is directly contributing to those agendas. Certainly the emphasis on place-based opportunities is in our favour and we have a vital role to play in bringing public and private sector organisations together, as well as reaching out to other sectors beyond those we immediately operate in. The government structure under its Industrial Strategy to drive economic growth post-Brexit is in danger of not embracing true functional economic areas and going down historical administrative boundaries when sometimes we are far better operating across LEP boundaries as well. This is an issue that we can give insight on.”
In South Lakeland, which spans Cumbria and Lancashire LEPs, Lawrence has devised growth initiatives to help the region realise its economic potential. “Around 44% of all visitors to the Lake District come to South Lakeland – but what most people and importantly investors don’t see is the high-value jobs in advanced manufacturing and our other diverse sectors, often hidden from view due to our fantastic landscape, and we need to encourage and produce more of these skilled jobs, making sure that people can afford to buy homes here. This, in turn, helps to keep young people in the area. We recognise that the collective economic area strength of Morecambe Bay (which includes both Lancaster City and Barrow) is greater than our single attributes, a power within the powerhouse.”
The ‘powerhouse’ that Lawrence refers to, of course, is the Northern Powerhouse – which, for Cumbria, means competing with major cities when it comes to having their voice heard. “For example, the recent publication of the Transport for the North strategy seems to have not fully understood the part we can play,” he admitted. “There is some recognition of the ‘Energy Coast’ but how the region connects to other places is not yet articulated around its true functioning economic areas. Ultimately we need initiatives on economic growth to gel, the same with health and housing, and whilst Carlisle to the north of Cumbria is our administrative centre we are also heavily dependent on looking south to our neighbours in Lancashire, Manchester and Liverpool. The Northern Powerhouse was a light that shone from central government; locally we need strong political and business leaders to ensure that we have a seat at the table and are listened to. The IED also has a role in representing the views of its members, who are geographically diverse.”
Lawrence’s arrival provides links for the IED into the District Councils’ Network – a cross-party member led network of 200 district councils in England and a special interest group of the Local Government Association – for whom he is lead officer for economic growth. He highlighted a particular need to increase the professional recognition of the IED. “I’ve got IED members within my team and they speak enthusiastically about the great value for money for professionals on the ground – from the monthly Bulletin they receive which keeps them informed of ‘all things’ economic to the conference and networking opportunities,” he said. “From my position as a Chief Executive, we become generalists through the job, but I’ve become more and more attuned to the training requirements of economic development professionals. There is an opportunity to support professionals through their CPD, so they have a more rounded feel for the economy, helping them to become more politically savvy, and helping them understand the very different skills required now to those of the more commercially-focused private sector, who we will work more collaboratively with in the future.”
Over the next three years, Lawrence has challenged the IED to become “recognised as the mouthpiece for the public sector and private industry on economic development”. He added: “Unlike many voices out there, we can provide a neutral, unbiased opinion on national policy and developments and really take economic development into the political sphere. There is also an opportunity to share local specialisms across the local government network – making a practical difference on the ground and bringing public and private sector partners together for the future prosperity of our nation.”
For further information please contact Phil Smith, Institute of Economic Development PR consultant, on 01778 218180 / 07866 436159 / firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes to editors:
The Institute of Economic Development (IED) is the UK’s leading independent professional body representing economic development and regeneration practitioners. Established over 30 years ago, the IED's key objective is to represent the interests of economic development practitioners and ensure their views are widely expressed and noted. The IED is committed to demonstrating the value of economic development work for local and regional communities; the pursuit of best practice in economic development and the attainment of the highest standards of professional conduct and competence.